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Communicating Ecological Indicators to Decision Makers and the Public

Andrew Schiller, Clark University
Carolyn T Hunsaker, Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service
Michael A Kane, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Amy K Wolfe, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Virginia H Dale, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Glenn W Suter, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NCEA
Clifford S Russell, Vanderbilt University
Georgine Pion, Vanderbilt University
Molly H Jensen
Victoria C Konar


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Ecological assessments and monitoring programs often rely on indicators to evaluate environmental conditions. Such indicators are frequently developed by scientists, expressed in technical language, and target aspects of the environment that scientists consider useful. Yet setting environmental policy priorities and making environmental decisions requires both effective communication of environmental information to decision makers and consideration of what members of the public value about ecosystems. However, the complexity of ecological issues, and the ways in which they are often communicated, make it difficult for these parties to fully engage such a dialogue. This paper describes our efforts to develop a process for translating the indicators of regional ecological condition used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency into common language for communication with public and decision-making audiences. A series of small-group sessions revealed that people did not want to know what these indicators measured, or how measurements were performed. Rather, respondents wanted to know what such measurements can tell them about environmental conditions. Most positively received were descriptions of the kinds of information that various combinations of indicators provide about broad ecological conditions. Descriptions that respondents found most appealing contained general reference to both the set of indicators from which the information was drawn and aspects of the environment valued by society to which the information could be applied. These findings can assist with future efforts to communicate scientific information to nontechnical audiences, and to represent societal values in ecological programs by improving scientist-public communication.

Key words

common language, communication, decision making, ecological indicators, ecological monitoring, environmental assessments, environmental values, public input

Copyright © 2001 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087